Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Even plants in containers need good drainage, especially in a wet season.

Draining Issues

With some parts of our region awash in winter rain, now's a good time to consider the importance of all sorts of drainage. Gumbo, clay, or sand -- our soils are considered "humid." In essence, that means the individual particles of soil are rich in moisture even when they are dry. That moisture is not available to plant roots all the time, but it plays a consistent role in the natural process of rot.

Soil structure and drainage work hand in hand. The addition of compost and other organic matter improves the soil structure, improves drainage, and helps all types of soil maintain a healthy growing environment. If you have improved garden soil and your neighbor does not, you can see clearly the difference good drainage can make. You're planting potatoes and sweet peas, but that neighbor will have to wait for dry weather, if it comes in time for winter planting.

Site Concerns
Even when soil drains well around the plants in your garden, it's important to consider drainage in the site itself. If containers sit directly on a solid surface, drainage from the pot can be stymied. This results in water lingering in the lower soil zone, as it can in a saucer under a pot, which can allow water to be reabsorbed. Browned leaf tips on tropical plants in pots is often attributed to such poor watering practices.

Remedy the situation by elevating pots on cute little "pot feet" or bricks, or at least carefully position pots so drain holes are located over the slats between boards in the deck. Similarly, even when you improve the soil in a planting hole in the garden, the drainage can be impeded by the surrounding soil. This is a major reason why garden beds are usually preferred over digging a single hole for each plant in otherwise unhealthy soil.

The third sort of drainage that can help or hamper plant growth is that provided by air circulation around the plants. While it's always tempting to go for a "full" look when planting, it's better to space plants to accommodate their mature size. Maybe it's because we don't want to wait, or honestly think our efforts will never result in a full-grown plant. But crowding plants can limit their growth, enable pests to spread from one to another more easily, and inspire unusual if not excessive pruning. Think before you plant!

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